So the safety pin thing is starting to take off, and, naturally, the internet being what it is, so is the attendant backlash.
I understand the argument. This can’t be slacktivism. This can’t be the only thing someone who cares about what’s happening to our country does. But I don’t think it’s a meaningless gesture.
I think about my recent trip to New York. I was in the city for less than three hours before I almost got into a fight on the subway. Some jackass was going after a woman in hijab, shouting as loud as he could about “Arabs aren’t American” and how his military service supposedly gave him the right to decide that. And I swear, I wasn’t trying to engage. But I asked if she was okay, and then I stepped in between them to cut off his visual access. I was glaring pretty mightily, but I kept my mouth shut. So, naturally, he turned on me. “What are you looking at? Oh, you think I’m a big racist?” Well, yeah, ’cause you pretty clearly are. But I held my tongue. “You don’t know! I did four tours! They’re all dangerous! They don’t belong here!” If that’s even true, then you’re a shame to our military, not a hero. But I held my tongue. “Where you from, blondie bitch? You even American? Where you from?”
I have a temper. And that’s when I lost it.
“Virginia. Where they teach manners.”
The lady in hijab got off at the next stop, and though I was still far from my destination, so did I.
No one else in that car said anything. Everyone else avoided eye contact, looked down, looked at their phones, looked anywhere but at the racist asshole trying to intimidate a woman on her way home from work. I can’t help but think, maybe, just maybe, if there had been some visual sign that there were others around, who wouldn’t stand for that kind of talk, someone else might have. It’s easier to be brave in numbers. (Certainly that’s the message the racists and bigots have taken away from Trump’s victory).
I live in a place where I’m less likely to encounter situations like that one, situations that morally require my intervention. Not that there aren’t bigots here — the gods know there are — but the population density is less, so there are fewer incidents on any given day, and thus it’s less likely that I’ll be the one to witness something happening. It’s also, frankly, a less diverse area than a big city like DC or New York (though more diverse than many people would give rural Virginia credit for being).
It’s a small town in the mountains of western Virginia.
On Wednesday, it felt funereal.
I live in a blue dot in a red part of a purple state. We managed not to embarrass ourselves by the skin of our teeth in this election, but that was cold comfort on Wednesday, as we attempted to reconcile ourselves to the reality that our President-elect is a misogynist, a racist, a bigot, quite probably a criminal, quite probably in league with foreign rivals, and quite definitely someone who had stoked the flames of hatred for his own personal gain. Our President-elect is someone who is making our world less safe. Our President-elect is a direct threat to many of us.
This blue dot has a lot of women in it. A lot of LGBTQ. More POC than one might think at first glance. A school for disabled children. As such, on Wednesday morning, it had a lot of very worried people in it. People who now felt vulnerable, because we’re looking at a President-elect who has demeaned us, who doesn’t think we have a right to be here, a right to our own bodies, a right to our words, or, really, most of the rights afforded to us by the Constitution. The city was in mourning.
And I realized… I had women younger than myself looking to me. For words, for direction, for hope. Apparently, I’ve reached the place in my life where… that’s the position I’m in. It bestows a responsibility.
Wearing a safety pin is not all I’m doing. I’m figuring out how to join protests, marches, and upcoming political campaigns. I’m amplifying the voices of those who are already suffering because of Trump’s hate-mongering. I’m pressing electors to become faithless in an attempt to save our republic. I’m holding the media accountable for their deficiencies. I’m re-configuring my budget to allow for donations to important organizations. I’m figuring out how to use my position as an educator and an artist to have a positive impact, to create a world where more people value pluralism, think divergently, and question what’s handed to them.
But I can also do this. I can wear this safety pin so that those around me know where I stand. If you have been left frightened and vulnerable by this election, I share your fears and concerns. I am someone you can talk to. Someone you can ask for a hug. And if, gods forbid, something happens to you, I am someone who will do everything I can to protect you. I will stand at your side, and if necessary, I will stand between you and what threatens you.